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.
While giving the verdict on the legality of the punishment of Colonel Taher, the high-court bench of Justices Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Zakir Hossain declared that the whole trial process was illegal and it was in fact a cold blooded murder of Taher by Late president Ziaur Rahman.
What high-court did to come to this conclusion? They interviewed one shoddy journalist character Lawrence lifshultz, who is a political follower of Taher’s communist doctrine. Other interviewed are also 1. Political opponents of Ziaur Rahman’s political platform 2. Supporters of ruling party who took it as their prime job to destroy Zia’s image 3. Political followers of Colonel Taher. Even the judges who delivered the justice, are publicly known nemesis of Ziaur Rahman’s ideology and are former leaders of socialist political platform based on Taher’s doctrine. And this is probably the first court proceeding in Bangladesh history where an witness could simply deliver his opinion via e mail to a third person. There was no ‘balai’ of oath taking, cross examination etc.
Before we go further into what these two judges did and what their judgment means, lets see what Taher in fact did back in early 70s.
If one asks BNP activists to say a few things about Ziaur Rahman, it will be difficult to find many who know more than two words, “Swadhinotar Ghoshok”. Since Zia’s death, his own political platform has been in power longer than any other political party. Yet there has been a miserable failure in projecting the late president and his contributions to the post-Zia generations.
Since his death, Zia has been among the most divisive figures in Bangladesh. Until very recently, one’s opinion about Zia could be used reliably as the indicator of one’s political orientation. Those with largely positive views about Zia’s contribution voted consistently against Awami League candidates, while it used to be rare to find an Awami League voter who would have a positive perception of Zia. Hence in electoral politics, BNP used to get easy votes riding on the late president’s high personal popularity.
However, the 2008 election was a rude awakening for BNP as it found that the easy free lunch of votes on Zia image has either disappeared or emotion for Zia is no longer strong enough to ensure automatic vote for BNP.
Today is the 30th death anniversary of President Ziaur Rahman. This anniversary comes at a time when Zia, his image, contribution and his philosophy are under fiercest attack ever.
After decades of relentless attack on Zia, the war hero and Zia the statesman, after abysmal failure of Zia’s party to portray him appropriately and effectively, it is no surprise if much of new generation Bangladeshis carry a faulty perception of Ziaur Rahman.
These days we talk a lot about bringing forward-looking youthfulness in our politics. And we also talk a lot about coming out of the slippery slope of hatred and vengeance and create a politics of reconciliation. We keep on hoping, hopelessly, for political leaders with courage and honesty.
Earlier we posted articles by Shafiullah and Khaled Mosharraf. Over the fold is the article by Ziaur Rahman. This first appeared on the Dainik Bangla 26 March 1972, and was reprinted in Bichitra on 26 March 1974. Regardless of their actions in 1975 and afterwards, and our political views based on today’s vantage points, Zia-Khaled-Shafiullah were our heroes in 1971. Lest we forget.
Independence Day greetings.
(Acknowledgement: Arif bhai for the original article, Tacit for translating the Zia piece).
Right after the birth of Pakistan, when Mr. Jinnah announced in our historic Dhaka city that Urdu and only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan, it felt as if Bengali nationalism became firmly fixed in my heart, and in the heart of all Bengalis. The contours of the Bengali nation took shape in us. The founder of the Pakistani state himself guaranteed the destruction of his unnatural creation – right here in Dhaka. Standing here in this historic city, Mr. Jinnah trampled on the birthright of our population. As a result, it is in Dhaka that his Pakistan was torn asunder. Dhaka had the last laugh on Mr. Jinnah and his followers. Dhaka was always a place of humanist values and free thought. It is appropriate that it acted as the font of our freedom. It now represents the hopes and aspirations of our long-repressed populace.
The people of Dhaka struggled heroically to free our beloved motherland. They resisted the invaders with bravery and courage. Thus the barbarian Pakistani military was forced to surrender right here at Dhaka. I stepped into Dhaka’s holy soil only a few days after the surrender of our enemies. My first thought was to offer my unconditional respect to the fighting people of Dhaka.
A journalist asked me to write something about those dreary days just a few weeks after the Pakistanis surrendered. I am a soldier. Writing is a gift from the Almighty. We soldiers do not naturally possess this gift. However, that historic moment was so epochal, that I had to set down my feelings.
The unnatural state of Pakistan was born with the partition of India. Our family went to Karachi right afterwards. There I matriculated in 1952 and joined the Pakistan Military Academy as an officer cadet. Ever since then, I worked for the armed forces in various capacities.
The insincere attitude held by Pakistanis towards us used to irk me since my school days. I knew they hated us. While at school, I listened to the discussion of many of my classmates who were merely parroting what their parents said. The youth of Pakistan were always taught to think of us Bengalis as inferior beings. These ideas were constantly drilled into their impressionable minds. It was not in my power to reply back all the time, but I used to do so whenever possible. I used to feel the desire to hit back against the mindset that gave birth to such thoughts. I used to feel the urge to rebel against the very idea of the Pakistani state that allowed such discrimination, and take up arms against the Pakistanis. This desire strengthened within me; waiting for the right place and the right time.
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.