Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Background to a Killing

What was the background against which Sheikh Mujib and his family were killed? The younger generation do not know and those who know do not care to enlighten them. Here are a few excerpts from Lawrence Zirring's classic "Bangladesh" (Dhaka: UPL, 1994). Please share this blog with as many as you can.

"Mujib believed he was Bangladesh, more so that he was good for the country and that it could not manage without him. Those who reinforced Mujib's impression of himself and his role did so because it benefited them politically or materially, not because they truly believed in his leadership." (p. 93)

"Mujib's bitter struggle with the army high command is illustrated by the decision to construct the Jatiyo Rakhi Bahini or National Security Force.…The Rakhi Bahini had quickly developed a reputation for intimidation and wanton aggression against the Bengali nation. Opinion was strong that that the para-military organization was no different from Hitler's Brown Shirts or the Gestapo. To informed observers as well as to a large segment of the population, Mujib and the Rakhi Bahini, not the Bangladesh army, posed the more significant threat to the country. The Bangladesh army, therefore, began to think of itself as the nation's salvation, the 'true' friend of Bengal." (pp 97 – 98)

"Unrestrained by law or law enforcement, defiant of the formal military establishment, gangs of toughs, many identified with the Rakhi Bahini even if they were without any official affiliation, roamed the countryside, looting the poor villagers and committing bodily harm on those resisting their demands. In the name of protecting society, the Rakhi Bahini, Bangabandhu's own, was viewed employing methods no different from the other anarchic groups." (p 98)

"In point of fact, Mujib exerted little if any control as the Rakshi Bahini assumed a life of its own and took upon itself the responsibility of eliminating Mujib's adversaries." (p 98)

"By 1974, several thousand local politicians had paid with their lives for their defiance or support of Mujibur Rahman. [Footnote: The environment of violence contributed to the events that ultimately took Mujib's life.] (p 99)."

"The momentum of violence had shifted from non-governmental to quasi-governmental contingents. Mujib, therefore, could not avoid the responsibility for the climate of fear and terror that gripped the country. Many of those allegedly killed by the Rakhi Bahini were rural leaders who had defeated Awami League candidates in the local polls that followed the parliamentary election (p 99)."

"Famine, always a threat, spread through the countryside in the summer of 1974, and no one, in or outside the government, seemed capable or willing to effectively grapple with the situation. Mujib was forced to acknowledge the starvation deaths of almost 30,000 people, and that was known to be a very low estimate (p 99)." [According to the Britannica, the figure was around 50,000, and there was food in the country, but the food was exported to India: see 'famine', Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition.]

"Thus, rather than starve in their remote villages, tens of thousands of peasants trekked to the towns and cities in search of relief….The task of keeping the famine-stricken outside the city limits was given to the Rakhi Bahini which showed little sympathy for their plight. The popular reaction to this callous display, this apparent breaking of a sacred promise, was predictable. Mujib was held accountable and he finally could not talk himself out of a hopeless situation. Empty words and gestures were exposed and the 'Friend of Bengal' witnessed the fading of his beleaguered popularity (p 100)."

"By the end of 1974, four thousand Awami Leaguers were reported murdered, including five members of parliament. There was reason to believe that many of the Awami League deaths had been cased by the Rakhi Bahini, which sensing a declining government apparatus and the loss of Mujib's prestige, sought to advance as well as protect itself….Mujib's fear had reached panic levels and he understood that this crisis would not pass. In a fateful move, he tried to back away from his reliance on the Rakhi Bahini, publicly attacked their violent excesses, and called upon the regular army to contain and control the smugglers and criminal elements in and outside the government (p 100)."

"Mujib found himself entangled in a web of his own making. His first order exposed the Bangladesh army to the magnitude of the national problem. His second order proved to be more fateful. On 28 December 1974, Mujib proclaimed a 'State of Emergency' in the country. These acts implied a form of martial law imposed by civilians rather than the military. Mujib had swept aside the constitution. Eventually the parliament was itself dissolved and the Awami League was transformed into a non-entity. Mujib had already laid plans for his new functional organization that he said better reflected his goals and hopes for the nation. BAKSAL was the inevitable outcome of these manoeuvres, but it was to be short-lived. Mujib sealed his own fate when he abandoned the three-year-old constitution and publicly condemned it as a legacy of colonial rule….But Mujib's coup did not have army support (p 101)."

"In January 1975, Mujib had himself sworn in as the country's president….Mujib, not the Bangladesh army, had removed the constraints on the arbitrary uses of power (p 102)."

"Having reached a moment when the only instruments of government lay in the utilization of violence, the question that emerged centred on where the violence would be directed. Mujib must have believed he could punish his enemies, i.e., anyone who challenged his supremacy. Indeed, Bhutto shared that thought two years later. But Mujib, as Bhutto was to learn, had the violence visited upon himself (p 102)."

"Mujib presided over a court corrupted by power. It acted as though it could shelter itself from the realities of Bangladesh. But the license that might have been ignored in some other societies, could not be ignored in a country overrun by self-styled enforcers, gouged by profiteers, and raped by government officials. With literally hundreds and thousands dying from hunger, with millions more threatened, high living in Bangladesh could only be equated with debauchery and hedonism, with irresponsibility and indifference. To anyone with a grudge or a sense of national purpose, the conclusion was the same. Deliberate efforts had to be made to reverse course, and the only option for such a reversal lay with a new team, and the only team capable of making the manouevre was the Bangladesh army (p 103)."

"BAKSAL was not only a coercive assembly, it was predicated on the elimination of other organizations. BAKSAL was Mujib's way of expressing his One-Party State. Thus in a more significant way, BAKSAL was meant to serve the purpose of the Bangabandhu's personal dictatorship, not the cause of national development and unity. BAKSAL was proof positive that Mujib intended to convert the country into a personal fiefdom for himself and his family members, and his many detractors did not need convincing that their once respected leader, not they, was the real threat to the nation's 'democratic' future (p 105)."

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