What is Ziaur Rahman’s biggest contribution to Bangladesh?
Ziaur Rahman gave our nation a clear identity. After independence, our national identity was declared as ‘Bangali’ and expectedly this created a lot of confusion. This identity ignored the non-Bangali citizens including the indigenous people of different part of Bangladesh as well as the urdu speaking citizens. Ziaur Rahman first coined the word ‘Bangladeshi’ as our national identity and successive government since then has maintained this identity. He also presented his vision of Bangladeshi nationalism and sutured together the geographic, historic, religious, cultural and political components of our nationhood. He based his politics on nationalism at a time when nationalism has not yet become a pan-global craze. In this context he can be called the father of Bangladeshi nationalism or father of our current national identity.
A great debate is going on in Unheard Voices about Bengali and Bangladeshi nationalism. Two high court judges led by Justice Khairul Haque ruled to strike down Bangladeshi nationalism from our constitution. The appellate division changed that ruling in a manner, which, rather than clarifying the issue, made the issue more contentious.
In continuation of the two posts below, let’s see how the proponent of this Bangladeshi nationalism presented his case.
Here are the excerpts from late President Ziaur Rahman’s address to the BNP MPs of the second parliament. I have reproduced the absract portion on Bangladeshi nationalism from the rather long presentation. I’ll put the English translation first followed by the scan of the original Bangla speech.
When President Ziaur Rahman was killed, he was only 45. But within this short life span he contributed enormously to Bangladesh. His catalytic role in initiating the mass revolt among Bengali members of the armed-forces after the brutal military crackdown of 25th March 1971, and his contribution as a military leader of Bangladesh’s war of independence distinguishes him as one of our top national heroes. Zia’s post independence role in building modern Bangladesh brick-by-brick by revamping all sectors starting from mutiny-ridden ‘broken-chain-of-command’ military, to her global image, to initiation of open-market-economy, are enough to immortalize him.
Yet, Ziaur Rahman’s lasting legacy will be his contribution to give the people of Bangladesh an identity — ‘Bangladeshi’ — that is inclusive of all the races, ethnic groups and religions. This identity emanates from Zia’s political philosophy of Bangladeshi nationalism, which was embraced very enthusiastically by an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis. The political philosophy of ‘Bangladeshi Nationalism’ was expressed as his forward looking, conciliatory, inclusive and tolerant modus-operandi of nation building.
In an orientation session for the newly-elected BNP members of the 2nd Parliament, Zia explained Bangladeshi nationalism the following way,
Couple of years ago, I noted how the typical discourse on Ziaur Rahman is full of lies. An (Awami League supporting) old friend asked me to write a positive account of Zia’s politics: instead of rebutting X, write about Y, he told me-. This (painfully slowly progressing) series is an attempt at that. Meanwhile, a regular reader asked me to write about Zia’s role during the war — not to refute the preposterous propaganda about him being a Pakistani spy, but about what Zia actually did after the radio declarations of March.
Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is meant to have quipped ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’. It seems to me that in Bangladesh we have three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and Zia-bashing.
Sometimes these lies about Ziaur Rahman get out of hand. For example, when Quamrul Islam, the State Minister for Law, claimed Zia was a Pakistani spy, even some of his fellow partymen thought he went too far. And the mainstream media, otherwise happy to partake in Zia-bashing, chastened him. The minister eventually backtracked.
But such backtracking is rare. The usual state-of-affair is one of unabashed series of distortions, half-truths, and intellectual bullying when it comes to Ziaur Rahman. And no, I am not talking about the Prime Minister or senior Awami League leaders’ bloviation. I am talking about what passes for conventional wisdom among our pundits and intellectuals when it comes to Zia’s views on Mujib, 15 August, Jamaat or India.
Zia has gone through an almost Darwinian process of selection through the war with Pakistan and coups in Bangladesh. He has never denigrated politicians as a class – which is itself typical of the present day military rulers of many third-world countries. On the contrary, he has shown adroit political skills in bringing together diverse political groups and accumulating political power though coalition-building.
That’s from the last paragraph of Prof Talukdar Maniruzzaman’s ‘The Bangladesh Revolution and its aftermath’. This post is about some puzzle, lesson and tragedy about the legacy of the president assassinated 27 years ago today.*
The force was never with late president Ziaur Rahman.
DUCSU was then under BNP’s student wing Chhatra Dal (JCD) control, so was majority of the dorms of DU. JCD was overwhelmingly single largest students’ party at DU campus. At that time, when two new dorms were built at DU, they were named Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Hall and Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall.
Today, Prothom-Alo gave single column 3 inches bottom of first page treatment to Zia’s death anniversary and the news item started this way, “Ex-President, Sector commander and Z force leader Ziaur Rahman’s…”.
With these exceptional nice treatments, the very powerful journalist-intellectual-academia Force of Bangladesh, in addition to a big chunk of the general population, carry and promote a very predictable deeply rooted image of Zia.
To this half of the country,
1. Zia, an army general and military dictator is the killer of democracy in Bangladesh.
2. Zia allowed re-establish Jamaat in Bangladesh.
3. Zia killed many freedom fighter army officers including Col Taher, Khaled Mosharraf etc.
4. Zia was a ruthless in suppression of press freedom.
The force, passion behind this accusation is so intense that the supporters of Zia were gratified when Zia was generously donated the title of a freedom fighter by the same force which promoted the above mentioned allegations against Zia.
On the face of intense passionate propaganda against Zia, a mere recognition of him as a freedom fighter was enough for Zia sympathizers and silent supporters.