In the pages of Bangladesh interest blogs, where you will be labeled BNP supporter if you dare disagree with even a single policy of Sheikh Hasina and where neutrality is a hated concept, one needs a lot of courage to write a tribute to Late President Ziaur Rahman. And I decide to take the unwise step to show the arrogance of writing a blog on Ziaur Rahman, foreseeing a barrage of attacks and a bleeding myself at the end of the ordeal.
A quarter of a century passed since President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated by a group of ranking army officers. Before being assassinated he could rule Bangladesh for around five years. Here are some of my observations about Zia, his life and death, the people’s love and the legacy.
1. Freedom fighter Zia is way overshadowed by military ruler turned president Zia. His role in 1971 war never got the due respect, even during the current hay days of his party.
First attack on freedom fighter Zia came from his fellow jealous freedom fighters like Major Rafiq who smeared against Zia’s activities preceding March 25 revolt.
Intellectually retarded leadership of post Zia BNP, while unduly focusing on his declaration of Independence, always failed to portray the valiant fighter sides of Zia, his brave, shrewd war plans, his overall contribution to the warfare of 1971.
It is yet unclear to me why Zia, senior most sector commander in active duty was superseded by Gen Shafiullah, an officer of significant lower caliber and courage, to be the first army chief of independent Bangladesh.
2. While Zia is blamed ( To some extent rightly) for his heavy handed dealing with the army coups, killing of dozens of freedom fighter army officers, killing of sector commander- war hero- war wounded Colonel Taher; his role is stabilizing Bangladesh Army into a disciplined force has never been appreciated. We have to understand that when Zia was rescued from house arrest on 7th November 1975, a large portion of Bangladesh armed forces was under control of Marxist philosophy, and the other part of army was resorting to coup and counter coup on a weekly basis. The whole chain of command was shattered. And at the end, when Zia paid for his cruelty with his own life, Bangladesh Army was a more disciplined force.
3. Zia could have kept the one party rule mandated by 4th amendment of the constitution, but he decided to nullify the fourth amendment to pave the way for multi party democracy. He was well aware of the grassroots power of Awami League and he opted take the challenge with tools of democracy.
4. While Zia was immensely popular to the youth and the students of the 80s and 90s, he failed to develop any following among the intelligentsia. In my observation, the weakest link of Zia legacy is that there is not a single progressive intelligent mind in Bangladesh who will talk publicly in favor of Zia. Bangladesh media or blog scenarios are such examples. You will get hundreds of trash quality books on Zia written by BNP MP wannabees, not a single enlightened analysis of his political philosophy.
Has any poet ever write poem on Zia? Did any painter lovingly painted Zia’s portrait? Did any Zia follower dedicated a website on Zia? Answer to all of them in NO. And these are Zia’s failure.
5. Zia’s rehabilitation of dalals and razakars was, although short sighted, very much needed to politically face a huge grass root party like Awami League. Shah Aziz is one such example who very successfully tackled AL in the parliament. But all these razakars kept their name by dumping BNP for Ershad’s JP in the first opportunity.
6. Zia’s scrapping of secularism, another short sighted step, was, although very popular at that time, took Bangladesh a leap backward. Zia didn’t have that significant political opposition at that time to resort to this sort of drastic constitutional measure.
The irony is that although Zia is regularly termed as “unknown major”, ” Military dictator”, ” tyrant”, his vision of Bangladesh’s political system, a ‘quasi religious, quasi nationalist, half-hearted democracy”, is being followed page by page by all the proceeding governments. Nobody ever expressed any feeling of discomfort in this system.
7. While Zia struggled and succeeded in maintaining a corruption and nepotism free image, his legacy, his dynasty, his family is solely based on rampant corruption and shameless nepotism. This is probably the worst failure of Zia legacy.
8. I used to live in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar when Zia was killed. I’ve never seen a bigger human gathering in Bangladesh and I’ll probably never ever see the collective spontaneous expression of deep grief by millions present in the funeral service. Unfortunately that generation is not in existence anymore. Zia’s party, although carry Zia’s image in election posters, depend more on votes from Awami League haters than the votes of Zia lovers.
9. Zia should never be compared with Bangabandhu Mujib. They are not comparable. Mujib will always have a different, high up place in history. But there should not any hesitation in crediting Zia for holding the country in steady hand during the post-Mujib vacuum.