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.*