Dr. Rashid Askari
The history of our Liberation War has undergone huge distortion at the hands of vested quarters and political governments. The politically partisan intellectuals held repeated post-mortems of history to use it in their respective favour. This tug of war with our history has caused serious harm to our national integrity. The impressionable young generation has been the worst victim of this. They are confused with the frequent changes in the historical accounts, which are in a state of flux in keeping with the change of the governments. This long-drawn-out hostility between the two major rival parties, Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), revolves around their two political idols — Mujib and Zia. And the bone of contention is primarily centred on the declaration of Independence.
The nagging controversy with regard to the declaration of our Independence is no longer unimpeachable. Mujib- Zia dichotomy regarding this should come to an end. Nobody was worthy of the declaration of our Independence except for Mujib. What Zia did was just read out a declaration note on behalf of Mujib. This is surely based on hard fact, and the reading out of the declaration note could not be considered as the formal declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh, which was actually made on March 26, 1971.There is as such no room for fabrication in these two distinct facts.
It is Mujib and only Mujib who, for the first time, formally made the declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971. S. A. Karim in his Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy writes that the wife of M.R. Siddiqi was given an urgent message over telephone from Bangabandhu received through the wireless operators of Chittagong. The message reads as follows:
“Message to the people of Bangladesh and the people of the world. Rajarbagh police camp and Peelkhana EPR suddenly attacked by Pak Army at 2400 hours. Thousands of people killed. Fierce fighting going on. Appeal to the world for help in freedom struggle. Resist by all means. May Allah be with you. Joy Bangla.”
This message from Bangabandhu was then taken as the declaration of independence, which was read out by M.A. Hannan, general secretary of district (Chittagong) Awami League at 2:30 p.m. On this basis, March 26 was declared Independence Day.
The declaration of independence made by Major Zia took place on the following day (March 27, 1971). As a matter of fact, Zia made two speeches. In the first speech, he claimed himself as the president of Bangladesh, and urged upon the people to fight the Pakistan army. When this unauthorised speech created confusion among the people, the Awami League leaders asked Zia to read out a text prepared by A. K. Khan to nullify the effect of the speech he had previously made. Zia followed the suggestion, and made a second speech, where he categorically mentioned that he was speaking on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the great national leader.
Zia’s speech, however, had an electrifying effect among the fighting men and the civil population. But it was more to the credit of an ex-officio person than to the credit of Zia, the very person. In other words, it was an on the spot demand which Zia happened to meet. Had there been some other army officials, say, a major or a colonel or the like, the effect would have been the same.
So, Zia should not be said to have declared independence of Bangladesh. He only read out the message of declaration on behalf of Mujib, which, too, has an historic significance and that was duly recognised by the Mujibnagar Government. But that should not be manipulated into usurping Mujib’s position in the declaration. Besides Zia never claimed himself the declarer of independence, and once vehemently opposed a proposal by one of his henchmen to establish him as that.
The constitution, which was accepted as the “Declaration of Independence” on April 10, 1971, by 403 elected MPAs and MNAs also bears the testimony to the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu. Under that constitution was formed the first government of independent Bangladesh (Mujibnagar Government) with Mujib as the first president. The constitution of 1972 was later written in the light of that constitution. As it is put in the sixth section of that constitution (Declaration of Independence): “Whereas in the facts and circumstances of such treacherous conduct Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of 75 million people of Bangladesh, in due fulfilment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on March 26, 1971 …” Again, in Section 10 of that constitution, Mujib’s declaration of independence is confirmed: “We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh … thereby confirm the Declaration of Independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” That Mujib declared independence is an historical truth, which is properly substantiated by the Declaration of Independence of April 10, 1971, which can be considered as the precursor to the constitution of 1972.
Bangabandhu is regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation’ for his contribution to the birth of a nation. Although this is a much bigger thing than being the claimant for a declaration, nevertheless, facts cannot be reduced to fantasies. That Mujib proclaimed the Independence has got very little to do with his being the founding ‘Father of the Nation’. Even then, all these arguments can be ignored, but the course of history cannot be changed. This is what history is. We can hold it down, or repress it for the time being. But we cannot stop it. The Grand Alliance Government should take great care of the history of the Liberation War, bring all these into consideration, and settle this stupid dispute through strong constitutional and other reforms.
Rashid Askari: writes columns and fiction and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org